Friday, November 30, 2018

Goodbye, November

Last night and today the air's been filled with a fine mist or fog. It's not heavy or thick, just enough to make it look as though everything is under very thin gauze. Perhaps that's what let the three does feel safe enough to visit the pumpkin pile under the pear tree. Even if our photography skills were much better than they are, the lighting was tough. Little light and even less contrast prevailed.

two of three does feeding at the pumpkin pile
two of three does feeding at the pumpkin pile
Photo by J. Harrington

They were beautiful to watch. Their dark dun coats, shrouded by mist, made us wonder if they were real or ghost deer. Other than an occasional glimpse as one or more crossed a nearby road recently, these are the first deer we've seen in weeks. Turkeys have equally been very scarce, no doubt due to the disruptions associated with the recent firearms seasons and continued, at a lesser level, by blackpowder  and bow hunters. We did see one flock of a dozen or so, strung out single file across a field five miles or so South of the house. The single file arrangement, in a head to tail fashion rather than side by side, looked pretty silly. Maybe, again this year, we'll be visited by a Christmas flock of turkeys.

one year a flock of turkeys visited at Christmas time
one year a flock of turkeys visited at Christmas time
Photo by J. Harrington

Marshes, lakes and rivers are all frozen but not likely safe to travel on. The Better Half pointed out some large flocks of geese way up in the air earlier this week. We suspect there may be open water one Forest Lake or, maybe the geese were circling before heading South for the Winter. It's about that time. Tomorrow we begin December. Sunday is the beginning of Hanukkah. We've managed to get ourselves well into the holiday season without even having to try. Starting tomorrow, we'll have to wait a whole year before we can agin enjoy a

November Night

Adelaide Crapsey18781915

Listen. . .
With faint dry sound, 
Like steps of passing ghosts, 
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees 
And fall.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Another side to gratitude

Tomorrow is the last day of November. Then we come to the last month of the year. If, like us, you live on a calendar year, it's getting to be time to take inventory.

It's not just candles that add light to our world
It's not just candles that add light to our world
Photo by J. Harrington

For much of this month we've been focused on what we're grateful for. It turns out to be a list that's much longer than we think about, wrapped up in our day-to-day activities. Now may be a good time to start to work on an inventory of what we've done that could make the world grateful that we're here. Over the past week or so, we've encountered a couple of folks who have, as we see it, gone above and beyond to help us attain something we wanted. (Yes, yes, yes, there's way too many "Not my job attitudes out there," but that's for some other time.) Those folks made us consider how we could make life more pleasant and successful for others. We think it's called "leading by example." There are probably several tracts about how parents should model good behavior for their children.

Anyhow, we hope the world will be grateful:
  • for the buckthorn we've pulled; 
  • the miles we haven't driven or flown; 
  • that our light bulbs are almost all LEDs; 
  • that many of our clothes are of natural fabrics (no plastic microfibers);
  • that we do much of our shopping locally; 
  • that, as much as we can, we catch and release spiders, chipmunks, and red squirrels (we haven't found a live trap that works on mice); 
  • that we feed birds (intentionally) and squirrels, deer and an occasional bear (usually unintentionally); 
  • that most weeks we have one or two meatless days; 
  • that we participate in local community supported agriculture and food co-ops.
This, we hope, isn't a complete list, but it's a start. We think we (all of us) need to do more to give ourselves credit for the extent to which we "walk our talk." This is all part of our new and improved "Yes, and" attitude (see yesterday's posting). (And, at this time of year, it also represents notes for our letter to Santa, in which we mention how much we were a "very good boy this year.")

snow-covered countrysides are often beautiful
snow-covered countrysides are often beautiful
Photo by J. Harrington

It was about an inch or an inch and a half of snow that fell in our neck of the woods last night. Most of that will melt over the next few days. Then we'll see what Saturday and Sunday bring. With luck we'll get to be grateful that we've dodged another weather bullet.

Wild Gratitude

Edward Hirsch1950

Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey, 
And put my fingers into her clean cat’s mouth, 
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens, 
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air, 
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight, 
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart, 
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing 
In every one of the splintered London streets,
And was locked away in the madhouse at St. Luke’s 
With his sad religious mania, and his wild gratitude, 
And his grave prayers for the other lunatics, 
And his great love for his speckled cat, Jeoffry. 
All day today—August 13, 1983—I remembered how 
Christopher Smart blessed this same day in August, 1759, 
For its calm bravery and ordinary good conscience. 

This was the day that he blessed the Postmaster General 
“And all conveyancers of letters” for their warm humanity, 
And the gardeners for their private benevolence 
And intricate knowledge of the language of flowers, 
And the milkmen for their universal human kindness. 
This morning I understood that he loved to hear—
As I have heard—the soft clink of milk bottles 
On the rickety stairs in the early morning, 

And how terrible it must have seemed 
When even this small pleasure was denied him. 
But it wasn’t until tonight when I knelt down 
And slipped my hand into Zooey’s waggling mouth 
That I remembered how he’d called Jeoffry “the servant 
Of the Living God duly and daily serving Him," 
And for the first time understood what it meant. 
Because it wasn’t until I saw my own cat 
Whine and roll over on her fluffy back 
That I realized how gratefully he had watched 
Jeoffry fetch and carry his wooden cork 
Across the grass in the wet garden, patiently 
Jumping over a high stick, calmly sharpening 
His claws on the woodpile, rubbing his nose 
Against the nose of another cat, stretching, or 
Slowly stalking his traditional enemy, the mouse, 
A rodent, “a creature of great personal valour," 
And then dallying so much that his enemy escaped. 

And only then did I understand 
It is Jeoffry—and every creature like him— 
Who can teach us how to praise—purring 
In their own language, 
Wreathing themselves in the living fire. 

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Home for the holidays

All too often we fail to appreciate the beauty of where we live. Today we were in St. Croix Falls, getting our Christmas cards from the St. Croix River Association. The main road through town had "Season's Greetings" banners at each end and the lamp posts are decorated with garlands and wreaths. As we passed through Taylors Falls, back on the Minnesota side of the river, we noted that their holiday decorations were obvious as well. (Neither North Branch nor Cambridge, each of which is larger and more commercial, offered the welcoming ambiance of the smaller cities. Something we keep losing as we push the "bigger is better" theme.)

The St. Croix Falls float in the Taylors Falls holiday parade
The St. Croix Falls float in the Taylors Falls holiday parade
Photo by J. Harrington

As we ponder what we've lost to progress, we can read a recent essay by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer. Littler Toller Books publishes an online journal, THE CLEARING, that "offers writers and artists a dedicated space in which to explore and celebrate the landscapes we live in." That's where we found Tallgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. We heartily recommend it. After our first read through, we were embarrassed (again) by how few of the prairie plants on our own small acreage we're able to identify. We did brighten up as we realized that we do know about two separate bison herds that pasture within 50 miles or so of our home. Learning one's home range takes more time than we're ready to admit. Plus, much of what we learned last month may change next.

one of the nearby bison herds lives at Eichten's
one of the nearby bison herds lives at Eichten's
Photo by J. Harrington

All of the preceding feeds into our continuing contemplations about where we feel we fit into our own home range and how we would know. As we drove about on today's errands, it occurred to us that a satisfactory answer may require an adjustment in our perspectives. Those who are skilled at improvisation are noted for their "Yes, and" approach. We're wondering if that becomes how to integrate our "homes" in New England and in Minnesota. Each contributes to a very large part of who we are. It's not being disloyal to New England to appreciate what we care about in Minnesota, nor vice versa. We'll work some more on our own "Yes, and" efforts and see where that gets us.


Yes, your childhood now a legend of fountains
                                                         —jorge gullén
Yes, your childhood, now a legend
gone to weeds, still remembers the gray road
that set out to cross the desert of the future.
And how, always just ahead,
gray water glittered, happy to be just a mirage.
Who steps off the gray bus at the depot?
Sidewalks shudder all the way home.
Blinds close their scratchy eyes.
Who settles in your old room?
Sniffy air sprawls as if it owns the place,
and now your teenage secrets have no one to tell.
For the spider laying claim to the corner,
there is a stickiness to spin, that the living may beg
to be wrapped in silk and devoured,
leaving not even the flinch from memory.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Morning, Winter

Cold again today. A few beautiful snow showers/flurries add a seasonal touch. The Better Half has been delivered to the airport. She's giving herself a Christmas/pending retirement/putting up with us present of a trip to Paris for a few days. The dogs join us in missing her and wishing her fun and safety in equal measure while she's gone.

We spent much of the morning writing checks to various charitable organizations, mostly environmental. We're avoiding the "Hurry, hurry, hurry before the chance is gone" rush of "Giving Tuesday." We'll write a few more checks later this week or early next. Having charitable organizations act like car salesmen, "it may not be here tomorrow," troubles us, especially at this time of year.

Winter morning magic
Winter morning magic
Photo by J. Harrington

On the way to the airport, we stopped at a branch library to pick up a copy of Jim Harrison's memoir, Off to the Side. We've become more and more intrigued about the friendship between Harrison and Ted Kooser, another of our favorite writers. There's not much said about how the friendship started in Kooser's biography so now we'll see what, if anything, we can learn from the Harrison side of things. We've read both Kooser's Winter Morning Walks: 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison and the collaborative poetry from Kooser and Harrison, Braided Creek: A conversation in poetry. Each writer has a rural background but Nebraska and Michigan are pretty far apart. We'll let you know if we learn anything worth sharing.

Depending on the weather, our mood, and ...?, we plan to get over to St. Croix Falls and get some Christmas cards, have a cup of coffee in Taylors Falls, and generally poke around our extended neighborhood, rather than sit on our butt in the house and stare out the windows. If Winter weather hinders your getting out and about, we strongly suggest you read this posting by Maria Popova on her blog Brain Pickings. We're too old to qualify as a young cynic, but could stand a refresher and reinforcement in living better in a "culture that rewards cynicism and selfishness over kindness and largeness of heart...."

By Ted Kooser,

from Winter Morning Walks

december 19

Cold, and snow in the air.

The cedars in the roadside ditches
are nearly black against the many grays
of this winter morning, but unlike
most things with darkness at their centers
they don't turn an impenetrable shell
to the light. Rather, like ink soon wet paper,
their dark limbs bleed into the light,
reaching farther and farther
into the whiteness of lightly falling snow.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Calling a constantly cranky curmudgeon

The sun is shining. Skies are blue. Our artisan sourdough bread will soon be out of the oven. Hairy woodpeckers have started to hammer on the failed loaf of bread we put in the tray feeder a couple of days ago. The "holiday weekend" major thunder-snowstorm took a path far enough South of us that we're coping with unseasonable cold again, but that's it so far. Oh, but we had a brief and very pretty snow shower this morning, and Sigurd has come to visit for the holidays.

Sigurd in his Christmas canoe
Sigurd in his Christmas canoe
Photo by J. Harrington

Here's the other side of the coin: A couple of weeks ago was "Give to the Max Day." Tomorrow is "Giving Tuesday." Property tax statements arrived a day or two ago. The percentage increase in local taxes proposed is about three times the rate of inflation. Separately, the township is holding a series of public hearings on zoning and ordinance changes but hasn't done much to provide information about what the proposed changes involve. Our jeep registration renewal is due. That notice just arrived. Because we have a custom plate, the local deputy registrar's office can't handle it but they were kind enough to provide a temporary permit in case DVS doesn't send new plates on a timely basis, you know, within a month. (The new system has been an issue in the capital for a year or two now.) All of this is from state and local governments in Minnesota, where we're supposed to be notably above average. God help the rest of you and let's not even get started on the federal government's dysfunctional performance these days.

We're getting notices that our version of Office is not longer supported and may not operate with the next version of Apple's OS X, or is it this version that may cause failure? Our iPhone and the music system in the jeep continue to argue with each other. The iPhone is also failing to recognize my thumbprint in a touch ID. Winter chapping?

Try as we might to be of increasing Christmas cheer, recently, petty problems seem to outweigh the day to day petty positives, turning us into a constantly cranky curmudgeon. Perhaps the problem is our belief that the world should function better? Well, now it's time for us to sign off and go get a flu shot. We hope we don't come down with something in the clinic offices.

A belated package of Thanksgiving cookies just arrived. We'll overdose when we get back home and share some sweetness tomorrow?

My First Best Friend

My first best friend is Awful Ann—
she socked me in the eye.
My second best is Sneaky Sam—
he tried to swipe my pie.
My third best friend is Max the Rat—
he trampled on my toes.
My fourth best friend is Nasty Nell—
She almost broke my nose.

My fifth best friend is Ted the Toad—
he kicked me in the knee.
My sixth best friend is Grumpy Gail—
she's always mean to me.
My seventh best is Monster Moe—
he often plays too rough.
That's all the friends I've got right now—
I think I've got enough.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Words mean something, even in watersheds.

According to the US Geological Survey,
A watershed is an area of land that drains all the streams and rainfall to a common outlet such as the outflow of a reservoir, mouth of a bay, or any point along a stream channel. The word watershed is sometimes used interchangeably with drainage basin or catchment. Ridges and hills that separate two watersheds are called the drainage divide. The watershed consists of surface water--lakes, streams, reservoirs, and wetlands--and all the underlying ground water. Larger watersheds contain many smaller watersheds. It all depends on the outflow point; all of the land that drains water to the outflow point is the watershed for that outflow location. Watersheds are important because the streamflow and the water quality of a river are affected by things, human-induced or not, happening in the land area "above" the river-outflow point.
Minnesota's Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) can now "adopt methods to allow comprehensive plans, local water management plans, or watershed management plans to serve as substitutes for one another; or to be replaced with one comprehensive watershed management plan." There's a process underway for the Lower St. Croix "watershed" that seems to violate the One Watershed One Plan concept in a number of different ways. That troubles us.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the self-defined "watershed" is promptly split in two, the Northern and Southern Lower St. Croix. But wait, there's less! None of the local governmental units involved, in fact, none of the partners or participants we could find, include any part of Wisconsin. The last time we took a peek, there were two banks to the St. Croix River, one in Minnesota, the other in our neighboring state to the East. So we now have "one watershed" that ignores half the watershed and splits the remaining "half" in two.

Source: St. Croix River Association

But wait, there's even less. The entire St. Croix River watershed encompasses much more than the Lower St. Croix. BWSR's "one watershed, one plan" for the Lower St. Croix covers what appears to be less than one fourth of the entire watershed. How is this supposed to work and how is this process supposed to have any credibility if it starts in such a distorted fashion? Is this more of an "old boys club" of local government officials promising more than they can ever deliver?

We have long been believers that Minnesota has entirely too many units of government with too divided responsibilities for land use and water management. The process being followed by units of local government doesn't appear to offer anything like an effective response to the recommendations offered by the 2009 Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework. Personally, we think it could be very beneficial if the incoming administration, the one that campaigned on the "One Minnesota" theme, actually did something to more effectively follow through on the recommendation to
Create watershed-scale Watershed and Soil Conservation
Authorities (WSCAs) throughout the state with
the responsibility of implementing the goals of 
 the Minnesota Water Sustainability Act. The 
creation of WSCAs would arise through a process
of transition from water planning within the
political boundaries of a county to water planning
at roughly the watershed level (8-digit HUC or
81-watershed scale) but the boundaries would be
determined locally. The transition would occur
over a 10-year period to allow existing water
planning entities within a watershed (SWCDs,
WMOs, and WDs) to negotiate a process of
transition to a single WSCA. BWSR would be
empowered to work with local water planning
entities to establish watershed boundaries and
plan for transition.
Perhaps what we're seeing is a variation on the approach recommended, but it's hard to tell from where we're sitting right now.


by: Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

    I COME from haunts of coot and hern,
    I make a sudden sally,
    And sparkle out among the fern,
    To bicker down a valley.
    By thirty hills I hurry down,
    Or slip between the ridges,
    By twenty thorps, a little town,
    And half a hundred bridges.
    Till last by Philip's farm I flow
    To join the brimming river,
    For men may come and men may go,
    But I go on forever.
    I chatter over stony ways,
    In little sharps and trebles,
    I bubble into eddying bays,
    I babble on the pebbles.
    With many a curve my banks I fret
    by many a field and fallow,
    And many a fairy foreland set
    With willow-weed and mallow.
    I chatter, chatter, as I flow
    To join the brimming river,
    For men may comeand men may go,
    But I go on forever.
    I wind about, and in and out,
    with here a blossom sailing,
    And here and there a lusty trout,
    And here and there a grayling,
    And here and there a foamy flake
    Upon me, as I travel
    With many a silver water-break
    Above the golden gravel,
    And draw them all along, and flow
    To join the brimming river,
    For men may come and men may go,
    But I go on forever.
    I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
    I slide by hazel covers;
    I move the sweet forget-me-nots
    That grow for happy lovers.
    I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
    Among my skimming swallows;
    I make the netted sunbeam dance
    Against my sandy shallows.
    I murmur under moon and stars
    In brambly wildernesses;
    I linger by my shingly bars;
    I loiter round my cresses;
    And out again I curve and flow
    To join the brimming river,
    For men may come and men may go,
    But I go on forever.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

It's beginning to look a lot like...?

We find Small Business Saturday much more appealing than Black Friday. For more years than we remember we've been supporters of local foods and local economies. We're not sure, but we think it may go back to having lived for about a decade in a small town in Massachusetts when we were young. As near as we recall, the closest we came to having a "big box" store in those days in that place was an A&P grocery. In fact, for the most part, those days were pre-bigbox, except possibly for Lechmere Sales in a suburb North of Boston, near Cambridge, MA.

sparkling white pines
sparkling white pines
Photo by J. Harrington

Today the Better Half joined us in an excursion to one of our favorite local stores, Scout & Morgan books in Cambridge, MN. We were surprised at the crowds inside the store when we arrived a little before midday. It was actually crowded no doubt in part due to the sale they're having for those regulars who subscribe to their email newsletter. We left without making any purchases. Our conscience remains guilty because of the stacks of unread and partially read books we've accumulated over the past year or two. The Better Half more than compensated for our Scrooge-like behavior. There was a book of Ted Kooser's, Kindest Regards, new and selected poems that caught our eye, but we have on our shelves most of the volumes from which poems were selected. In fact, we're currently rereading Kooser's Winter Morning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison. Depending on which other books arrive at Christmas, we may well reconsider Kindest Regards before year's end. After all, it does include a number of new poems. We'll think about that glass as being half full.

our "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree
our "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree
Photo by J. Harrington

On this locally dreary Thanksgiving weekend Saturday, the last traces of snow have been washed away by our rains. A murder of crows is returning to their Winter roost in our woodlot. But, our Christmas tree is up and decorated, and, thanks to the Better Half, with some aiding and abetting by yr. obt. svt., we have the place brightened inside and out with Christmas lights twinkling like Summer's fireflies. The picture near the top of this posting is the one we promised a day or so ago of using driveway trees as decorations. (By the way, the lights twinkle but don't flash. We can't stand flashing Christmas lights.) The inside tree is a for real "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree, a scrawny white pine sapling from our own property, sparsely decorated by Herself. It has its own poetic, artisanal charm that's growing on us.

At least one of the poems in Winter Morning Walks makes it clear that our North Country isn't the only place to experience dark, cloudy November days. We're grateful the weather's not worse, that there are poets like Kooser and local shops nearby that sell poetry. We're also grateful that our Better Half has the artistic sense to push us out of our routine daily walkings and into Charlie Brown's world where we can experience the beauty and joy of something different, our home-grown tree decorated in a simple, old-fashioned way.

november 18

Cloudy, dark and windy

Walking by flashlight
at six in the morning,
my circle of light on the gravel
swinging side to side,
coyote, raccoon, field mouse, sparrow,
each watching from darkness
this man with the moon on a leash.

from Winter Morning Walks, by Ted Kooser

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, November 23, 2018

#GreenFriday #OptOutside

We failed a little in our efforts to buy absolutely nothing today on #BlackFriday. We decided it was necessary to buy suet for the birds at the local IGA and the Better Half wanted to get some seasonal decorations at the local florist. We did much better as participants in #OptOutside and #GreenFriday. We moved the pumpkins from the porch to under the pear tree behind the house. We'll see if the local whitetails wanted to nibble on them. Several of the pines from the South side, and one small cedar from the North side of the drive have been converted to front porch Christmas decorations. (In recognition of our carbon footprints and climate disruption, we'll plant some replacement trees next Spring, but in a more sustainable location.) If today's rain doesn't short out the lights, we'll share pictures tomorrow of this year's front porch!

Franco is sure every day must be Christmas
Franco is sure every day must be Christmas
Photo by J. Harrington

After a morning's work by their owners, the dogs got a belated Thanksgiving treat (chopped up giblets etc. with their dry kibble) this day after Thanksgiving. Being dogs they asked how come they didn't get fed that way every day. We're starting to wonder if they've been reading Ray Bradbury's Dogs Think that Every Day Is Christmas. Maybe we should read it to both of them to be sure they pick up more of the spirit of the season. We're finding seasonal spirits to be a challenge for us today since the temperature is close to 50℉ and rain is forecast to literally put a damper on attendance at Taylors Falls Christmas Lighting parade this evening.

SiSi acts like every day is Christmas
SiSi acts like every day is Christmas
Photo by J. Harrington

The parade has lots of floats and participants wearing lights. We're not sure we want to be around to see how well they work when wet.

how would all these lights react to rain?
how would all these lights react to rain?
Photo by J. Harrington

Christmas Mail

By Ted Kooser

Cards in each mailbox,
angel, manger, star and lamb,
as the rural carrier,
driving the snowy roads,
hears from her bundles
the plaintive bleating of sheep,
the shuffle of sandals,
the clopping of camels.
At stop after stop,
she opens the little tin door
and places deep in the shadows
the shepherds and wise men,
the donkeys lank and weary,
the cow who chews and muses.
And from her Styrofoam cup,
white as a star and perched
on the dashboard, leading her
ever into the distance,
there is a hint of hazelnut,
and then a touch of myrrh.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving! Will you choose to be thankful today?

Once again it's officially the "Holiday Season." Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is underway. That's the milestone we use each year. We wish you all the warmest, most desirable and wonderful holidays ever. Don't forget to share what you have with those who have less.

we're grateful for November sunrises like this
we're grateful for November sunrises like this
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning we're trying to decide if it's time to be grateful that Minnesota's North Country has found a solution to global warming. This season our skies have been cloudy almost all day, almost every day. Yesterday's sunrise looked sort of like the picture above. Today we couldn't find a sunrise, the clouds are so solid and thick, but we are grateful we are free to choose to be cheerful regardless. [Read Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”] If sunlight is limited to around 10% or 20% of normal, does that solve climate disruption? Probably not, since the solution needs to be global, right?

With that out of the way, we can think of no better wish for all of us this season than to note and live by Frankl's observation and to choose to live in a way like the following:

Max Ehrmann


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Indigenous Thanksgiving?

Today we're grateful we came across a story about the plans being developed to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, two years from now in 2020. Here's a link to the story from the Associated Press: 400 years after Pilgrims came ashore in Massachusetts, natives gain a voice in Plymouth. We hope for a future in which Thanksgiving will no longer be a day of mourning for anyone, a day on which colonizers will be naturalized even if we can't become indigenous.

everything in the center piece basket is chocolate
everything in the center piece basket is chocolate
Photo by J. Harrington

We're grateful we grew up in a place that knows enough to keep trying in hopes someday they'll get it right. We're grateful for what remains of the family we left behind, especially a creative and thoughtful sister who sends delightful centerpieces for Thanksgiving and special cookies many times each year. We're also grateful that we long ago found a Better Half with whom we've made a second home and raised a family half a continent from where we were born and raised. We're looking forward to enjoying Thanksgiving at the new house the Daughter Person (who bakes one of our favorite kinds of cookies for us) and Son-In-Law bought recently, and to eventually hearing the stories that come from making a house into a home. We hope they have learned and will remember that a dining table may be for holiday company, but a kitchen table is where family and friends gather.

Poking about the internet this morning, we discovered that one of our favorite poets, Joy Harjo, has an online reading of her Thanksgiving poem. We hope you enjoy it and have a wonderful and thankful holiday.

Perhaps the World Ends Here

By Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Pining for locally grown decorations

Rarely, but every once in a while, a small dash of common sense strikes us in a timely fashion. This week we're slowly getting Christmas decorations in order. Along the South side of the drive, a number of pine saplings have grown where we don't want them. They've sprung up close enough together to at least partially block the discharge from the snow blower. We've now decided some of them will get cut tomorrow to fill in gaps around the decorations near the front porch, the decorations that are under the net lights (see yesterday's photo). Until this morning we had just been contemplating cutting those pines and throwing them on the brush pile to be burned. We feel much better having thought of an interim use. Might be some of our old New England "use it up, wear it out" background getting satisfied.

at least some of these will help decorate Christmas this year
at least some of these will help decorate Christmas this year
Photo by J. Harrington

To be honest, someone, probably the Better Half, used pine branches for filler last year (or the year before) in the decorations, so that's most likely where we got the idea. We're just pleasantly surprised that this year we thought of cutting some pines before all the Christmas decorating was done.

Today we were grateful that we were awake this morning and looking our the window in time to watch a beautiful sunrise climb up over a band of clouds. We played a little with our camera but weren't really satisfied with any of the results. There seems to be something about digital cameras that dislikes the reds of sunrises and sunsets. Whenever we take pictures, they look washed out. After watching the Eastern sky for awhile, we then enjoyed the sunlight slowly descending down the tree tops behind the house. That didn't happen until half an hour or more after the sun came over the Eastern horizon. Seeing the fresh start to a day is often one of the best times of day as far as we're concerned. We're grateful we saw the sun today for a brief while first thing.


I didn’t know I was grateful
            for such late-autumn
                        bent-up cornfields

yellow in the after-harvest
             sun before the
                        cold plow turns it all over

into never.
            I didn’t know
                        I would enter this music

that translates the world
             back into dirt fields
                         that have always called to me

as if I were a thing
              come from the dirt,
                          like a tuber,

or like a needful boy. End
             lonely days, I believe. End the exiled
                           and unraveling strangeness.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, November 19, 2018

'Tis Thanksgiving week. Do you know the real story?

Off and on all day we've been enjoying snow flurries (showers?). We're now in (an early) Thanksgiving week so a little snow seems seasonal. We think we remember that, way back in the days when we were much younger, family Christmas decorations stayed put away until after Thanksgiving. We mention this today because, at the moment, there's a pair of pumpkins (Thanksgiving decorations) sitting where a batch or two of Christmas greens usually appear, some years covered by light netting, which we find particularly attractive. We think we'll wait until after Thanksgiving to do that part of the decorations. Between now and then we can pick away at hanging some wreaths or swags in a subdued fashion so that Christmas doesn't prematurely overwhelm Thanksgiving.

decorations done the day after Thanksgiving a year or two ago
decorations done the day after Thanksgiving a year or two ago
Photo by J. Harrington

We're sure we've mentioned this before, but it's timely again this week. If you can get your hands on a copy of 1621: a new look at Thanksgiving, try to read it this week. Much of what we've been taught, or learned randomly over the years, about Thanksgiving is inaccurate. We were born in Boston and much of our teen and early adult years were spent living in the historic territory of the Wampanoag people. We know that the Pilgrims and the Puritans aren't the same folks. Our copy of the "1621" book came from Birchbark Books in Minneapolis several years ago. Both a hard cover and a paperback edition are listed on their web site.

"New England" architecture with Christmas decorations in Taylors Falls
"New England" architecture with Christmas decorations in Taylors Falls
Photo by J. Harrington

Something we're grateful for, especially at this time of year, is that we live somewhere that has a lot of older homes in the New England architectural style. Being able to enjoy buildings decorated for Christmas that look much like those in several of the neighborhoods where we grew up makes us feel very much at "home for the holidays."


Ella Wheeler Wilcox18501919

We walk on starry fields of white
   And do not see the daisies;
For blessings common in our sight
   We rarely offer praises.
We sigh for some supreme delight
   To crown our lives with splendor,
And quite ignore our daily store
   Of pleasures sweet and tender. 
Our cares are bold and push their way
   Upon our thought and feeling.
They hand about us all the day,
   Our time from pleasure stealing.
So unobtrusive many a joy
   We pass by and forget it,
But worry strives to own our lives,
   And conquers if we let it. 
There’s not a day in all the year
   But holds some hidden pleasure,
And looking back, joys oft appear
   To brim the past’s wide measure.
But blessings are like friends, I hold,
   Who love and labor near us.
We ought to raise our notes of praise
   While living hearts can hear us. 
Full many a blessing wears the guise
   Of worry or of trouble;
Far-seeing is the soul, and wise,
   Who knows the mask is double.
But he who has the faith and strength
   To thank his God for sorrow
Has found a joy without alloy
   To gladden every morrow. 
We ought to make the moments notes
   Of happy, glad Thanksgiving;
The hours and days a silent phrase
   Of music we are living.
And so the theme should swell and grow
   As weeks and months pass o’er us,
And rise sublime at this good time,
   A grand Thanksgiving chorus.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Cast your bread upon...

There's cranberry relish on the stove, a couple of poinsettias have appeared on top of the piano and the jack-o'lanterns have moved on from the front porch. Holiday seasons are changing and the weather keeps yoyoing between Winter and Autumn. Single digits again this morning when we did the early morning dog walk. Thanksgiving is supposed to be much warmer. Something for which we will be grateful.

Since this is the start of Thanksgiving week, we'll also admit we're grateful we don't live in any of the fire-ravaged areas of California; nor in Yemen, nor about anyplace else in the Middle East. Until the glaciers return, Minnesota may well be one of the better places to try to adapt to a broken climate. As chaotic and dysfunctional as much of our political climate is these days, we don't seem to have (yet) caught ourselves in the bind those in the United Kingdom have over their Brexit options.

from the top, lack of rise isn't obvious
from the top, lack of rise isn't obvious
Photo by J. Harrington

This past week we've also realized just how much we're grateful for the way our family, the one we've raised with the Better Half, has turned out. Many of the things that get us upset these days are far from life-threatening or even real pain inducing. That probably means we need to be more grateful that most of our more immediate problems fit the heading of major or minor annoyances. We look forward to being grateful for the day we actually fail to sweat the small stuff. Then we can work on remembering it's almost all small stuff. Or do we have that backwards? Does it work better if we start with the idea it's almost all small stuff and move inform there?

it can definitely be seen from the side
it can definitely be seen from the side
Photo by J. Harrington
it has some crumb, but it's very dense
it has some crumb, but it's very dense
Photo by J. Harrington

The past couple of days we experienced our first unmitigated, and unexplained, failure in the years we've been baking bread. We though we had done everything as has worked well in the past, but the loaf completely failed to rise. When we sliced it, there were a number of the carbon dioxide openings, but they were much smaller than usual. The closest we can come to an explanation is the starter may have collapsed before we used it and we simply failed to notice. Or, the oven  thermostat didn't register properly? Only sometimes do we do the see if the starter passes the test and floats in a glass of water. We had just used the self-cleaning option on the oven the day before so ...? Anyhow, rather than throw out our failure, it now sits in a bird feeder. We're curious to see if any of the feathered or furry critters think it's edible. We're grateful that so many of our baking efforts have turned out well. As we've written previously, baking is helping us transition from living in a mechanical universe to an organic one. Now, we'd be especially grateful if we could begin to have poems turn out as well as our artisanal bread. Maybe that's what we should focus on in 2019? Meanwhile, you should be grateful if thus far in your life you've avoided failures like our unrisen bread and even more so if those become the only notable failures in your life. Without mistakes, how would we learn?

The Mystery of Meteors

I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park 
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds 
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead 
Leonid’s brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read 
the signs in heaven, I cannot see night rendered into fire

And yet I do believe a net of glitter is above me 
You would not think I still knew these things:
I get on the train, I buy the food, I sweep, discuss, 
consider gloves or boots, and in the summer, 
open windows, find beads to string with pearls 
You would not think that I had survived 
anything but the life you see me living now

In the darkness, the dog stops and sniffs the air 
She has been alone, she has known danger, 
and so now she watches for it always 
and I agree, with the conviction of my mistakes. 
But in the second part of my life, slowly, slowly, 
I begin to counsel bravery. Slowly, slowly, 
I begin to feel the planets turning, and I am turning 
toward the crackling shower of their sparks

These are the mysteries I could not approach when I was younger:
the boulevards, the meteors, the deep desires that split the sky
Walking down the paths of the cold park
I remember myself, the one who can wait out anything
So I caution the dog to go silently, to bear with me 
the burden of knowing what spins on and on above our heads

For this is our reward:Come Armageddon, come fire or flood, 
come love, not love, millennia of portents-- 
there is a future in which the dog and I are laughing 
Born into it, the mystery, I know we will be saved

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Swan, no song

We walked the dogs a little later than usual today. Our adult children are Harry Potter fans so we all went to see "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them." We can't honestly recommend it but neither was it a disaster. If and when there's another like it, we'll check the reviews more carefully before deciding.

Back to the dog walking: it was a blue-sky, sunny afternoon, with a half moon floating up there somewhere. We got to watch a single swan, fairly high up, fly past toward the Southeast, looking as if s/he wanted to find open water. That's a challenge these days. A long, white neck leading a white body propelled by large white wings, with the sun shining on all that whiteness, was a gorgeous sight.

Bone Lake, single swan on the snow
Bone Lake, single swan on the snow
Photo by J. Harrington

Why it was only a single swan, we can't begin to guess. There was a single swan two years ago come December perched on the snow covering Bone Lake. We thought that one might have needed rehabilitation but s/he was gone (without leaving blood on the snow) the next day when we drove past again. Perhaps today's and the one from 2016 were part of the flock that over-Winters on the St. Croix done at Hudson.

Seeing that swan today promptly put us in mind of the poem below. We suspect many of you learned it in grammar school, as we did. We continue to enjoy it from time to time.

To a Waterfowl

Whither, 'midst falling dew, 
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day, 
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue 
Thy solitary way? 

Vainly the fowler’s eye 
Might mark thy distant flight, to do thee wrong, 
As, darkly seen against the crimson sky, 
Thy figure floats along. 

Seek’st thou the plashy brink 
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide, 
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink 
On the chaféd ocean side? 

There is a Power, whose care 
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,— 
The desert and illimitable air 
Lone wandering, but not lost. 

All day thy wings have fanned, 
At that far height, the cold thin atmosphere; 
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land, 
Though the dark night is near. 

And soon that toil shall end, 
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest, 
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend, 
Soon, o’er thy sheltered nest. 

Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven 
Hath swallowed up thy form, yet, on my heart 
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given, 
And shall not soon depart. 

He, who, from zone to zone, 
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, 
In the long way that I must trace alone, 
Will lead my steps aright.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The more things change...

We remember, vaguely, when we were young and first married, the holiday hassle of deciding whose family got visited when for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Later, when we were the family of origin for our children, Thanksgiving and Christmas were celebrated at "our" house. Next week's Thanksgiving is to be convened at the Daughter Person and Son-In-Law's new home. Somehow, we don't think that going to their place will bring us back to the feeling of being young and newly married, but we may be misjudging.

neither domestic nor heritage, but wild
neither domestic nor heritage, but wild
Photo by J. Harrington

The Better Half has promised to cook our own much smaller turkey and fixin's so we'll have the good smells and the pleasures of leftovers after Thanksgiving. Then, on Thanksgiving Friday, we'll be in Taylors Falls for the Lighting Festival parade. See what we meant yesterday when we mentioned in our posting a reference to all the excitement at holidays' time?

Taylors Falls Lighting Celebration decorations
Taylors Falls Lighting Celebration decorations
Photo by J. Harrington

Other events also come about this time each year. We have to haul the snow blower out, see if it starts, or, most likely, haul it off to our local small engine tune up shop for some TLC. Each and every Spring we're never sure when it's safe to turn off the gas line valve and run the engine dry. That's what comes from living somewhere that it can snow eleven months a year. We are grateful for the changing seasons and the beautiful country we live in despite a dreaded possibility of snow almost anytime.

we hope we'll be watched over by a Christmas angel
we hope we'll be watched over by a Christmas angel

This Christmas we'll be back to being empty nesters. We haven't yet discussed with the Better Half the prospect of getting a Christmas tree that doesn't require a crane to put up in the living room. Over the years we've accumulated enough keepsake ornaments that we keep needing a bigger tree to hold them all. The Daughter Person is supposed to be inheriting some of the keepsakes so we may survive putting up our tree without crippling or maiming ourselves. And this year although we won't be limited to, we will be able to enjoy with the Better Half, a

Thanksgiving for Two

The adults we call our children will not be arriving 
with their children in tow for Thanksgiving. 
We must make our feast ourselves, 

slice our half-ham, indulge, fill our plates, 
potatoes and green beans 
carried to our table near the window.

We are the feast, plenty of years, 
arguments. I’m thinking the whole bundle of it 
rolls out like a white tablecloth. We wanted 

to be good company for one another. 
Little did we know that first picnic 
how this would go. Your hair was thick, 

mine long and easy; we climbed a bluff 
to look over a storybook plain. We chose 
our spot as high as we could, to see

the river and the checkerboard fields. 
What we didn’t see was this day, in 
our pajamas if we want to, 

wrinkled hands strong, wine
in juice glasses, toasting 
whatever’s next, 

the decades of side-by-side, 
our great good luck.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Noticing ups and downs and arounds

So far today we've noticed three things that seem unusual, although it may just be that what we've seen is normal and we simply haven't noticed them before.

this is where we're used to seeing blue jays
this is where we're used to seeing blue jays
Photo by J. Harrington

First, a blue jay has been trying to feed at the suet feeder. Usually we seem them feeding on the ground under the sunflower seed feeders, especially the one in front of the house. The folks at Cornell's all about birds tell us that blue jays are omnivores, so that would include suet. The fact that we've only seen them feeding n the ground or at a tray feeder before is what threw us off.

Second, we briefly got to watch a red squirrel about half the size of a gray squirrel chase the gray out of the red squirrel's "territory?" It reminded us of some of the scenes from the old silent movies with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Keystone Cops, or Laurel and Hardy. In what may or may not be a related matter, one or more critters has eaten the faces our of our jack-o'lanterns. We suspect small rodents (red squirrel?) since there's been no gnawing on the jack-o'lantern tops or on the uncarved pumpkins, as has happened when the local deer herd stops by for a snack.

only those at the top remain
only those at the top remain
Photo by J. Harrington

Third, many of the trees in our aspen patch have lost their leaves except those near the very top. We've no idea if this is or isn't normal but we don't remember noticing such a pattern before. That may be attributable to prior year's attention failure or a memory failure or both.

That's been the height of excitement around here today and we won't mind at all if it stays that way. A quiet period before Thanksgiving  and again before Christmas is a pleasant variant on holiday excitement. In a comparable vein, today's warmer weather might not have felt as nice if we hadn't had an unseasonable cold snap already.

Today is also "Give to the Max Day" in Minnesota. Our email inbox is full of reminders, as is our Twitter timeline. This year we're not going to play. We've been making some sustaining donations all year to a couple of the non-profits we support, and responded to a number of other pleas, including memberships and special projects, from other non-profits, mostly environmental. We got annoyed last year by the "increase donation to cover processing fees" and the fact that the donation system occasionally got overloaded. This year our giving will be more mindful and intentional and done some other day. Our rationale is described in this paragraph and the one preceding. We're grateful we're able to make the donations we do.

When Giving Is All We Have 

Alberto Ríos1952

                                              One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.